Art and Faith

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Mikhail Scotti. Minin and Pozharsky. 1850

Minin and Pozharsky

Mikhail Scotti

1850

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This painting portrays the two leaders of the Russian national resistance to the Polish invasion of the early 17th century. Kuzma Minin (on the right) was a butcher of Novgorod (some sources say he was a blacksmith), whilst Dmitri Pozharsky (on the left) was a boyar. This happened in the context of the Smuta (“Troubles”, in English, the era is known as “The Time of Troubles“). The Rurikid dynasty died out, causing great instability in Russia. The Polish Rzeczpospolita (not only present-day Poland, but also Lithuania, Byelorussia, the Ukraine west of the Dnepr, and parts of western Russia near Smolensk) saw this as a chance to gain territory at Russia’s expense and to impose Catholicism in place of Orthodoxy. The “Counter-Reformation” in the Rzeczpospolita was particularly virulent (especially in the reign of Sigismund III); it destroyed the once-widespread religious tolerance in Poland. On 9 October 1596, the treacherous Metropolitan Kirill Terletsky signed the notorious “Union of Brest”. The unrest over this in Kiev was so fierce and vehement that the Uniate turncoat metropolitan had to flee to Vilna. This religious aggrandisement was part of a complicated series of wars and manoeuvres between the Polish and Russian states. There were Polish invasions in 1605 and 1607, but the main conflict erupted in 1609. Polish forces entered Russia and marched into Moscow in August 1610, placing Władysław, the son of King Sigismund, on the throne. However, they couldn’t take the St Sergei-Holy Trinity Lavra, which put up a heroic resistance from September 1609 to January 1611. The monks took an active role in the fighting, so the monastery didn’t fall to the Catholic invader. The Poles seized Patriarch Germogen; when he refused to embrace Catholicism, they starved him to death. At this time, the people called Minin and Pozharsky to lead the opolchenie, the host raised to drive the Poles out of Moscow and restore the throne to Orthodox hands. The Russian host besieged Moscow, whilst the Cossacks drove off Polish relief forces. On 1 November 1612, the Russian host forced the surrender of the Polish garrison in Moscow, after a long siege of over a year. On 21 February 1613, the Zemsky Sobor (Assembly of the Land) elected the 17-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov tsar at the Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma (it’s interesting to note that the last ruling Romanovs were murdered in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg in 1918). The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until its fall in the Revolution of 1917.

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The epic movie 1612 in five parts, with English subtitles… good stuff

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A new national holiday, the Day of National Unity, was first celebrated in Russia on 4 November 2005 to commemorate how all classes of society combined to defend faith and motherland. Actually, it was a revival of an old Tsarist holiday abolished by the Sovs. At the same time, an epic movie, 1612, on the theme of the war to defend Orthodoxy and Russia appeared in the cinemas. You can’t underestimate this episode, for it, along with the Battle of Kulikovo in the 14th century laid the foundations for the Russian national identity. Besides this, the courage of Minin and Pozharsky ensured that we’d have an Orthodox faith to practise. If it weren’t for the defeat of the Poles, we wouldn’t be Orthodox today. We’d be Uniates on the Galician model, at best. At worst, the Poles would’ve destroyed our ritual as well. You could see this in how they brutally imposed the Unia in all their territories. Look at the Galician Uniates today! Mostly, they can’t have married clergy; they must follow the Roman line in everything. The brave leadership of Minin and Pozharsky saved us from that. I must note that the Rzeczpospolita declined after it started to oppress its Orthodox inhabitants. In the 18th century, it was so weak that Austria, Prussia, and Russia partitioned its territory amongst themselves. Poland didn’t rise again until 1918, in a much shrunken form, centred on the Polish ethnographic territory. These men saved our faith, and we owe their memory an inestimable debt of gratitude. If they’d been pacifists, the papist Poles would’ve trampled our faith into the mud. The martyrdom of Patriarch St Germogen shows that abundantly (nevertheless, one should never be disagreeable or nasty to current Uniates. They aren’t responsible for the past, nor are they responsible for the kowtowing of their hierarchies to Rome). Be wary of all single-cause groups in the church, but be especially wary of those who parrot fashionable shibboleths (both rightwing and leftist) to curry favour with the heterodox. We deserve better.

BMD

Monday, 5 November 2007

Do Not Murder!

Do Not Murder!

Post-Soviet Russian poster

1990s

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This poster makes a crucial distinction. The Decalogue does not say, “Thou shalt not kill”. Rather, it commands us, “Thou shalt not murder”. Unfortunately, this distinction is lost in most English translations. Therefore, the current noise in some circles that the Church condemns warfare per se isn’t founded in fact. If we look at the actual practise of the Church as compared to recent pronouncements by such groups as the “Orthodox Peace Fellowship”, we see that far from being pacifistic, the Church has blessed Christian warriors many times during its history. The forces of the Christian Roman Empire (mistakenly called the Byzantine Empire in most sources) bore the cross upon their shields, and the host was blessed many times not only by priests and bishops, but also, by patriarchs. Throughout their history, the forces of both Christian Rome and Russia carried the icon of Christ upon their banners into battle, and such usage wasn’t considered sacrilegious at the time, nor is it a profanation of the sacred today. Indeed, there were many times when the sword defended the faith. Do remember the example of the boyar Dmitri Pozharsky and the blacksmith Kuzma Minin in leading the Orthodox host in defence of faith and motherland in the early seventeenth century. If they’d been pacifistic, Russia would be a Catholic country today. Indeed, the monks of the St Sergius-Trinity Lavra actively helped defend their monastery against the Poles, and none of them were excommunicated for doing so.

Earlier, in the fourteenth century, we have the example of the heroic schemamonks Peresvet and Oslyabya at the Battle of Kulikovo against the Golden Horde. I’ll not comment on them at present, for there are stirring artworks featuring them, and that would be the proper time to cover them in depth. Before departing for the field of battle, Grand Prince St Dmitri Donskoi went to receive the blessing of St Sergius of Radonezh, the greatest elder of the time. He wasn’t refused. There are icons depicting this, and St Dmitri is shown in full armour, bearing his weapons. Of course, there is also the fact that the Church glorified St Dmitri as being amongst the choir of saints. I’ve seen photographs of Patriarch Sergei Stagorodsky blessing the troops of the Dmitri Donskoi Tank Brigade. There are also photos of religious processions at the front, priests receiving decorations for bravery in battle with the partisans, and of Patriarch Sergei calling on the people to resist the invader. The Church was NOT pacifistic. If Russians had been pacifistic, the Nazis would be ruling Russia as a colony today.

BMD

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